Radio Quarantine – Depeche Mode – Clean (1990)

Clean
The cleanest I’ve been
An end to the tears
And the in-between years
And the troubles I’ve seen
Now that I’m clean
You know what I mean
I’ve broken my fall
Put an end to it all
I’ve changed my routine
Now I’m clean
I don’t understand
What destiny’s planned
I’m starting to grasp
What is in my own hands
I don’t claim to know
Where my holiness goes
I just know that I like
What is starting to show
Sometimes
Clean
The cleanest I’ve been
An end to the tears
And the in-between years
And the troubles I’ve seen
Now that I’m clean
You know what I mean
I’ve broken my fall
Put an end to it all
I’ve changed my routine
Now I’m clean
As years go by
All the feelings inside
Twist and they turn
As they ride with the tide
I don’t advise
And I don’t criticise
I just know what I like
With my own eyes
Sometimes
Clean
The cleanest I’ve been
An end to the tears
And the in-between years
And the troubles I’ve seen
Now that I’m clean
You know what I mean
I’ve broken my fall
Put an end to it all
I’ve changed my routine
Now I’m clean
Sometimes

There are two lines make this song:

“The cleanest I’ve been.”

and “I don’t claim to know where my holiness goes.”

They speak to the words of The Crocodiles that I repeat ad infinitum (ad nauseum?); a pickle can never again be a cucumber. There is a condition, and I hate to use the word innocence but for lack of a better one, that you will never again see. Clean is somewhat of an oxymoron. There is the literal sense of the word. You put some days, weeks, months or even years together having purged the toxins from your system. Then there is a broader, figurative sense of the word that describes the things you have done and the things you have seen that cannot be unseen. It doesn’t really apply only to anyone who has struggled with addictions. Nobody makes it beyond their own childhood clean, in this sense of the word.

Depeche Mode isn’t shy about religious references (I don’t claim to know where my holiness goes) so why not me? Perhaps the idea of original sin that plays so much into our culture isn’t about any past offenses that a child is born with but about the inevitability of the sins we are destined to commit. The Bible may have done a bit of that Philip K. Dick Minority Report thing here and condemned us in advance for crimes not yet committed.

There are a lot of songs about addiction and they seem mostly to deal with that feeling of near holiness and enlightenment an addict feels breaking the surface after sinking for so long. They speak of new leases on life and epiphanies and promises. The DM boys broke the mold on this one though. They just talk of breaking the fall and an “end to the tears and the in-between years.” In-between years is a good way to describe the spiritual fugue state where you’re not really living but not really dying. You’re just in-between. This song is just different. It seems more honest.

“I just know that I like what is starting to show.” That lyric is a very big deal. It takes an awful long time to get to that point, or it can. Any addict can tell you that. It’s a point you hit when you’re still running from something but you’ve got something to run towards also. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s the ability to look in the mirror and see a future.

I used to write about recovery all the time and I see in the last couple years that it was an attempt to put distance between myself and my past. That’s the rub though. You can’t put distance between yourself and your own past. It’s not a separate entity. It’s not even something stuck to you. It is you and that’s where “as clean as I’ve been” comes in. You will not become clean. It’s not like you will always be a ticking timebomb waiting for a horrible past to catch up with you. It’s already there anyway. It’s not like you are a relapse waiting to happen either (and I’m going to write about this later as I think that is exactly what a lot of people think when you tell them you’re in recovery). As clean as I’ve been is a truth that you, at some point, will have to accept. It’s a truth that most people have the privilege of never having to think about. Every last child born loses their innocence on the road between the womb and growing up. It’s just that some of us get more down and dirty than others. It’s all relative.

I’ll tell you what. I don’t even envy the people who don’t have to think about it. They’re often the ones that lose their shit if the world around them goes pear-shaped. Even with this current crisis around the virus. There were a lot of articles back in late March about addicts relapsing around the new stresses, but they were kind of bullshit. Stress isn’t at all new to people who’ve experienced a degree of chaos in their lives. It caught a lot of other people off guard though and we’re hearing more about that now. And not fer nuthin’ I suspect that once the room of the various 12-steps programs open up again whenever that happens, there are going to be a lot of new faces. Some of them might legitimately belong there but lot of them are going to be people who’ve had to sit with their own thoughts and routines for a few months, for the very first time in their lives. A lot of people are going to see that they’re nowhere nearly as clean as they thought they were.

I’m just saying…

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